Wise Carter attorneys Charles H. Russell, III and George H. Ritter won an appeal of a jury verdict in a Federal Employers Liability Act (“FELA”) personal injury suit filed against Illinois Central Railroad Company.
Luther McLain sued Illinois Central alleging that Illinois Central’s negligence exposed him to repeated trauma over the course of his 32-year career causing him to sustain a degenerative back injury.
On the second day of trial, McLain improperly contacted an empaneled juror in violation of the trial court’s instructions. During cross-examination, McLain admitted to committing perjury during his prior deposition concerning his post-injury physical abilities and to soliciting perjury from another material trial witness in an effort to cover up his prior perjury.
Hinds County Circuit Judge Tomie Green denied Illinois Central’s motion for a directed verdict, and the jury found for McLain awarding him damages of $150,000. After the verdict was announced, Judge Green sanctioned McLain $500 for juror contact and $10,000 for unlawful solicitation of perjured testimony from a trial witness.
Illinois Central filed a motion for additional sanctions, arguing that dismissal with prejudice was the only appropriate sanction for McLain’s egregious misconduct. The trial court denied Illinois Central’s motion for additional sanctions, and Illinois Central filed its notice of appeal.
On July 30, 2015, the Mississippi Supreme Court reversed the judgment against Illinois Central, rendered judgment in favor of Illinois Central, and assessed all court costs against McLain. In a 5-2-2 decision, the Court found that given McLain’s admitted perjury and solicitation of perjury, a sanction of $ 10,000 was insufficient to punish his misconduct or deter others from similar misconduct.
The majority held that dismissal with prejudice was the only punishment sufficient to accomplish these objectives. Although the facts of this case are unusual, the decision highlights the Mississippi Supreme Court’s firm stance against litigants committing perjury for monetary gain. Trial attorneys should be vigilant to expose suspected perjury or fraud on the court and warn clients of the risks of any conduct that could be construed as perjury or solicitation of perjury.